The New York State Authorities Budget Office is recommending the three municipal water authorities in the county be consolidated into a single countywide water-sales entity.
The state agency released an audit Wednesday that looked at the Saratoga County Water Authority, Clifton Park Water Authority and Wilton Water and Sewer Authority and said they should be run as one.
The audit also criticized the financial management of the 5-year-old county authority, saying it made billing errors — errors an authority official said were minor.
“We’re disappointed in the ABO’s conclusion,” said county Water Authority Chairman John E. Lawler.
The county authority was activated in 2007 and draws its water from the upper Hudson River in Moreau, treating it and piping it to the central part of the county. Its major purpose has been to get industrial process water to the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta, but it also sells potable water to the towns of Wilton, Clifton Park and Ballston and the village of Stillwater.
The county Water Authority sells water wholesale to the Clifton Park and Wilton authorities, but isn’t their exclusive source: Both also have groundwater well sources.
The ABO report concluded the state Legislature should consolidate the three water authorities into one county-wide authority, “consistent with the state’s goals to consolidate duplicative or overlapping government agencies.”
The Clifton Park and Wilton water authorities both sent reply letters to the ABO opposing consolidation, calling the report’s conclusion “superficial.”
“The report really doesn’t do much to support the recommendation,” Lawler said Wednesday.
According to the report, ABO auditors determined combining and consolidating operations of the three authorities could improve management and operations while maintaining current levels of service. The systems are already interconnected, eliminating one potential barrier to joint operations, the report noted.
Potential benefits of consolidation include saving money through a combined staff, coordinated the purchase of common items like water treatment chemicals, and lower administrative costs, the ABO report said.
But leaders of the town water authorities don’t believe it.
The Wilton Water and Sewer Authority is a combined water-sewer entity that couldn’t separate its water sales operation without dramatically increasing residents’ sewer costs, said authority Chairwoman Nancy Fleming.
“The minimal savings to the WWSA ratepayers for water service would be more than offset by the increase in sewer rates,” Fleming wrote to the ABO in a reply letter.
In a separate reply, Clifton Park Water Authority Chairman Helmut Gerstenberger said “consolidation would be totally undesirable, and quite frankly, impractical.”
Lawler said he’s open to discussing ways the authorities could work together, including shared purchasing.
The report also recommended management improvements at the Saratoga County Water Authority and the Clifton Park Water Authority.
The ABO report said county water authority board has been reluctant to hire a full-time financial manager or executive director, and “has not properly ensured that an adequate control structure is in place over the financial and management operations of the authority.”
“As a result, numerous errors and inaccuracies in the Authority’s billing practices were identified,” the ABO report said.
But Lawler said the alleged “inaccuracies” were, in fact, cases of rounding customer bills to the nearest 1,000 gallons purchased.
“We sell water by the thousand gallons,” he said.
The county authority has not had a full-time executive director since September 2011, contracting instead with Delaware Engineering of Albany for a part-time director. The Delaware employee, Ed Hernandez, is a professional engineer with a degree in business administration, and the authority said he’s qualified to handle both the technical and financial aspects of management.
“We’re very comfortable with the job he is doing,” Lawler said, and there’s no immediate plan to start looking for a full-time executive director.
The ABO did not find any serious financial control deficiencies at the Clifton Park Water Authority, but did recommend ways to reduce unnecessary operating costs.
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